Winter is here and you’re ready to hit the slopes. As you break out your winter jacket and snow pants, consider these safety tips from Dr. Peter Hanson, an orthopedic surgeon affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital, before you jump on those skis or that snowboard:
- Wear appropriate protective gear.
More than 220,000 people were treated last year for winter sports-related injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Helmets can reduce the severity of head injuries, and goggles protect your eyes from harmful UV rays, improve visibility by reducing glare and protect you from debris.
- Check the weather.
Always check the weather forecast before heading out into the cold. The risk of frostbite is less than 5 percent in temperatures above 5° F , but the risk rises as the wind chill falls. At wind chills below minus 18° F, frostbite can occur on exposed skin within 30 minutes.
- Layer up.
There are three primary layers when dressing for cold weather, each with a specific function.
1. Base Layer: Undergarments designed to wick sweat off your skin. Merino wool or synthetic fabrics are most commonly recommended, but by all means avoid cotton as it performs poorly in wicking sweat — causing you to feel cold.
2. Middle Layer: An insulating layer with the purpose of keeping you warm. Down or synthetic down jackets provide light-weight solutions, but are ineffective when wet.
3. Outer Layer: A breathable layer that shields you from wind, rain and snow. Breathable may seem counterintuitive, but it enables built-up sweat to evaporate.
- Wear sunscreen.
Sunscreen is often overlooked when you’re up on the slopes, but sunlight reflects off snow and UV rays still penetrate clouds. Even though it feels cold, the atmosphere in the mountains makes sunburn even more of a risk.
- Micro spikes, crampons and walking sticks help prevent slipping on ice.
Micro spikes are chain-link metal traction devices worn over your boots that add traction on level surfaces with packed snow or ice. Crampons serve a similar function, but are more effective in alpine hiking. Walking sticks or trekking poles serve as additional points of contact with the ground to improve stability.
- Learn how to fall.
As surprising as it sounds, learning how to fall can prevent or reduce injury whether you are skiing, snowboarding or ice skating. If you are learning any of these activities, consider wearing padded protective gear for your wrists, knees, elbows and head.
- Stay hydrated.
It’s easy to forget to drink enough water when you’re having fun on the slopes, but remember to take a break every hour to drink a few cups of water or even eat some fresh fruit to help you stay hydrated. If a water source is not nearby, then pack it with you in an insulated container to prevent freezing.
- Warm up thoroughly before venturing out into the cold.
Warming up encourages circulation and prepares your muscles and joints for activity. It also serves as a good test of your base layers to ensure the fabric wicks sweat away from your skin.
- Don’t overdo it.
Winter days are short and you may be tempted to maximize your time on the slopes or the ice rink, but remember your knees, feet and ankles may not be prepared for a full day of activities. Pace yourself for the first few outings and cut the day short if you begin to feel muscle or joint pain.